The Problems with Retirement Housing

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As more of us retire earlier, and with more than just a government pension to sustain us, the call for housing for the retired will grow, but will there be enough to go around?

Ageing Population

We are an ageing population – there are more people over 60 than there are under the age of 18 – and by 2030, Age UK predicts there will be more than 20 million over 60’s in the UK. So the call for retirement housing is only going to increase – and yet specialist developers can have difficulty obtaining planning permission for this type of tenure.

According to new research by Newcastle University and the developer Churchill Retirement Living, council planning officers have little experience of what is involved and how to assess the proposals. It is also hard for developers to get advice from officers.

Yet introducing more retirement housing could be to everyone’s benefit. According to the reportRetirement Living Explained: A Guide for Planning and Design Professionals – providing retirement accommodation for all those who want it could help to release up to £307 billion of housing, and be of benefit to local economies, as older people now have more disposable income. The aim of the study is to offer guidance and put a spotlight on the benefits of retirement housing for those working in the design and planning of retirement developments.

Sticking Point

The report focuses on the real-life experience of Churchill’s retirement housing developments. The main sticking point is the lengthy negotiations around development contributions – such as affordable housing – which sometimes stretched out for longer than the statutory consultation period. The report also focuses on the fact that planning officers can have problems getting access to the relevant expert knowledge on retirement living products and specialist housing.

Churchill also had problems when trying to contact planning departments, as phone numbers were rarely available online and staff were hard to identify as they all had generic email addresses and no individual online presence. This is not necessarily a problem that is confined to those interested in retirement housing.

The report stated: “It is apparent that local authorities discourage open or general discussion with planners. Professional staff are apparently kept at arms-length, behind customer relations staff.”

The report also highlighted the fact that advice from the local authorities planning officers seemed to be influenced by local stakeholders and councillors putting them under political pressure.


Some of the issues, as we see it, are with developments aimed at the over 55s. Generally speaking, someone who is 55-60 years old, for instance, is still fit and active and has different needs and makes different demands on resources, compared with someone who is of ‘retirement age’ (65+ years old). This could, therefore, have an impact on the number of parking spaces required because the elderly is less likely to drive but at 55 years old it is very likely that you still run your own car.

Another issue is the blurring of lines between planning use classes – as many modern developments cover both dwellings and care environments. The report suggests: “There is a good argument that retirement housing should be considered ‘sui generis’, or a subcategory of housing in the same way that affordable housing is treated as a sub-category of C3 housing.”

You can read the full report Retirement Living Explained: A Guide for Planning and Design Professionals, at
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